Music I Liked in the Summer of 2021

This is the first article in a series on Music I Like.

Keith Jarrett: My Song (2005 live performance)

Keith Jarrett gave his final concert five years ago, in July 2016, and he is sorely missed. He was the rare kind of musician who just kept getting better. My favorite performance of his is the 2005 rendition of “My Song” at Carnegie Hall. He was 60 at the time. The piece, dating from 1977, was 28. The 2005 version resembles the original release, but gone are the sax and the base. What’s left is sparse, but heartfelt: a guy with a piano and a song he’d been working on for three decades.

Lemmy “Special” Mabaso: Bra Lemmy

I stayed home for most of last winter, when things in Switzerland weren’t looking so hot. When the spring finally hit, I turned all my nervous energy to learning the pennywhistle. The pennywhistle is a wonderful instrument, but most of its repertoire is Irish folk music, which is not in my bones. So I looked afield for something to play, and I found Kwela: the South African version of 1950s Rock and Roll.

The pennywhistle is to Kwela as the electric guitar is to Rock and Roll: a widely available, easy to learn instrument. Like Rock and Roll, Kwela is the combination of the 50s musical energy with whatever was lying around at the time. What results is a jazzy, happy sound that just embodies summer.

Lemmy Mabaso’s music is the perfect introduction to Kwela. Here you can hear what I’m talking about. The rhythm is 44, but the whistle cuts through it at 68, just doing its own thing. It’s awesome.

St. Vincent: The Melting of the Sun

St. Vincent has a new single. The first few bars evoke the early 70s, but if you tried to place it, you’d find that nothing actually sounded like this back then. But then she starts singing and the rest of the song is unmistakably modern. (Moreso, if you listen to the lyrics. This is not a happy summer jam.)

This is the thing with trying to capture nostalgia: the era in question never sounded how we remember it. Musical innovations that only happened later get backdated. Ditto vocal inflections and subject matter. Guitar players are always surprised that early blues music didn’t use the dominant seventh chord, which we think is the “blues sound” made tetrachord. If they cover the songs, they insert the seventh. (And did you know we didn’t put wheels on luggage until 1972?)

Miles Davis: Jo-Jo

Miles Davis made so much music that people don’t feel silly assembling even a top 20 list of his albums. I was surprised to find Amandla on one such list. It’s glossy and very 80s, but maybe because I’ve been listening to Kwela, I’ve wanted to listen to it lately: Amandla was vaguely inspired by South African music. But mainly, Jo-Jo is just a fun track that a lot of people might not have heard.